Πλαγκτάς. The regular meaning that attaches to “πλαγκτός” and its congeners seems, in spite of Nitzsch's protest, to force upon us the interpretation here of the ‘wandering’ rocks. In Od.21. 363“πλαγκτέ” must either be ‘vagabond;’ or, possibly, ‘distraught in mind:’ and “πλαγκτοσύνη” ( Od.15. 343), is the word used to describe the ‘wanderings’ of a beggar. “Πλαγκτός” is also used (see L. and S. s. v.) as the epithet of ships, Aesch. Pers.277; of a cloud, Eur. Suppl.961; of the tides in the Euripus, Anthol. P. 9. 73; of an arrow, ib. 6. 75.So Πλαγκταὶ πέτραι, like “πλωτὴ νῆσος” ( Od.10. 3, with note), must be the ‘wandering’ rocks: and it is not unlikely that we have in the name an early attempt to reproduce some sailor's story of the floating icebergs; which, with the water breaking against their sides, and their overhanging summits ever threatening to fall, exactly meet the description in w. 59 Od., 60.But the name may soon have lost its real meaning, or the story become half forgotten; as is suggested by the words θεοὶ μάκαρες καλέουσι. See on Od. 5.334, 10. 305. This will account for the incongruities which appear in the later part of the description, which really are accretions that have grown round the original form of the legend. No doubt the Planctae were early identified with the Symplegades ( Eur. Med.2; Pind. Pyth.4. 208), which are also called “συνδρομάδες πέτραι” Eur. I. T.421.For example, Herodotus (4. 85) says, “ἔπλεε ἐπὶ τὰς Κυανέας καλεομένας τὰς πρότερον Πλαγκτὰς Ἕλληνές φασι εἶναι”, and in the Euxini Peripl.( Graec. Min.ed. Didot Min., 422, § 90) we read “αὗται δὲ αἱ Κυάνεαί εἰσιν ἃς λέγουσιν οἱ ποιηταὶ Πλαγκτὰς πάλαι εἶναι”, and in Pliny (N. H. 6. 12. 13), ‘insulae in Ponto Planctae sive Cyaneae sive Symplegades.’ The danger from the Symplegades was lest they should nip the ship, as it passed between them— and this is not even alluded to here. It is the violent surf and the firestorms which destroy the ships that come near the Planctae; so that, from this point of view, they appear to be steep islets like Stromboli, rising from the midst of seething breakers, and spouting forth volcanic fires. Most modern editors prefer the interpretation ‘striking’ rather than ‘wandering’ (the root “πλαγ” belonging both to “πλάζω” and “πλήσσω”); and explain it either of ‘dashing together’ or of the water that ‘dashes’ against them. The ancient commentators were equally divided. Schol. H. writes “Πλαγκτὰς” [text “πλακτὰς] διὰ τὸ προσπλήσσεσθαι αὐταῖς τὰ κύματα: οἱ δὲ νεώτεροι πλανηθέντες, Πλαγκτὰς ἤκουσαν παρὰ τὸ πλάζεσθαι εἰς ὕψος καὶ βάθος”. Crates gave as his explanation, “ὅτι πλάζεται περὶ αὐτὰς τὸ κῦμα”, and others (Schol. V.) “οἱ δὲ ὡς τὴν Δῆλον κινεῖσθαι καὶ φέρεσθαι”. Eustath. regards the name as meaning “πλαζομένας καὶ κυλιομένας”, and he accounts for the “πυρὸς ὀλόοιο θύελλαι” by supposing “ὡς ἐκ τῆς συγκρούσεως καὶ πῦρ ἀποτελεῖν”. But he adds, “εἰ δ᾽ ἴσως ἐκ τοῦ πλήσσειν εἴποι τις παρῆχθαι τὰς” “Πλαγκτὰς, δύναιντ᾽ ἂν οὕτω Συμπληγάδες λέγεσθαι καὶ αὐταί”. The ancients generally placed the Planctae at the north entrance of the Sicilian strait; later authorities have sought to identify them with the volcanic Liparean isles. Mr. Tozer (Lectures on the Geography of Greece, Lond. 1873) remarks (p. 67 foll.) that the Greek sailors, seeing the shifting form of the numerous islets pass them in quick succession, ‘conceived of them as moving objects, and gave them the name of “νῆσος”, (“νήκιος”?) or “floating land,” from “νέω”, “to swim;” and from a lengthened form of the same word, “νήχω”, one island in particular, Naxos, “the swimmer,” got its title. So too we find that both the Strophades off the west coast of the Peloponnese, and the Aeolian islands to the north of Sicily, bore the earlier name of Plotae: the name Strophades itself probably embodies the same conception of their shifting their position . . From this, by an easy transition, arose the idea that these wandering rocks clashed together, which has taken form in the story of the Planctae, as told in the Odyssey.’ Ameis ( Od.15. 299Anh.) finds the same meaning in “θοαὶ νῆσοι”, which he renders, ‘die eilenden Inseln;’ because to one on shipboard, the islands seem to ‘run’ by him, while he himself appears to be stationary. But may we not seek the origin of the expression “Πλαγκταὶ νῆσοι” in the natural phenomena of the Mediterranean, and especially of the Greek Archipelago? The sudden appearance and subsidence of numerous islets under the action of submarine volcanoes is an occurrence not unknown there in modern days. And a popular way of describing this would be that these islands were to be seen first in one place and then in another, thus well deserving the epithet ‘wandering.’ The disturbance of the sea and the emission of smoke and flame attendant on their upheaval, complete the Homeric picture. In July, 1831, a mass of dust, sand, and scoriae, was thrown out of a submarine volcano about thirty miles off the coast of Sicily, opposite to Sciaccia. In the beginning of August it had a circumference of about a mile and a quarter, and its highest point was estimated at 170 feet above the sea. It received the name of Grahame's or Hotham's island, but before many months had passed the whole mass disappeared again below the level of the sea. A similar phenomenon was noticed not long since in the neighbourhood of Santorin.
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